Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Tricks to Tight 'Sneaky' DESCRIPTION

How would you convey what is happening in this picture?
- How would you describe this character?
- Her actions?
- Her setting?
- Her mood?

Getting the IMAGE on Paper
Avoid Simple Nouns:
The door, the car, the tree, the house, the sword, the dress, the hat... Write instead: The French doors, the Subaru, the oak, the Victorian cottage... Using a Specific Noun, rather than a simple and vague noun, automatically pops in description.

Adjectives are your Friend!
Adjectives give your objects and locations emotional flavor and impact. The trick is not to over-do it! Moderation - moderation - moderation.

One adjective per Noun: Put in an Adjective -- in addition -- to a specific Noun. The ornate French tapestry, the rusty Subaru, the yellow Victorian cottage.

Two adjectives per Sensation: Sight, Sound, Taste, Texture, Scent - are all perceived through the senses. The glaringly red French doors, the seductively throbbing jazz, the creamy bite of yogurt, the nubby white dishcloth, the pungent musk of wet dog.

The Not-So Dreaded -ly Words.
Every once in a while you will hear someone whine that you shouldn't use words that end in -ly. The "No -ly words!" whiners are usually the same people that say: "Don't use Adjectives!" Think People! How the heck are you supposed to describe something without adjectives? You CAN'T.

The "No -ly Words" rule
to Fiction!

This rule comes from Basic School Grammar - grammar that was intended for NON-fiction, such as Reports and other boring description-less education-related or business-related writing. On the other hand, Fiction THRIVES on description!

Still Feeling Guilty?
If you can find another word that says the same thing without ending in -ly, use it. If you can't, then use what you have and DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT.

Making the Reader FEEL the Passion
You want PASSION? Make the prose PURPLE!
Seriously. Sensually-Descriptive and Erotically-charged words are the key to Romantic and Sexually-charged fiction. If it implies a Sense - sound, taste, sight, texture, scent - you're halfway there!

So, where do you get them there what's-it words? From Trained Professionals: Other Writers. I pulled out my favorite trashy novels and hunted down phrases that really caught my attention and then I made a list of all the PRETTY words.

salacious humor
carnal gratification
languorous bliss
shrieking culmination
disconcerting stimulation
brutal carnal rapture
exquisite torment
lustful cravings
irresolute yearning
skittish laughter

I also dug through my thesaurus and made another list of all the adjectives I use over and over and over...

Assault - attack, advancing, aggressive, assailing, charging, incursion, inundated, invasion, offensive, onset, onslaught, overwhelmed, ruinous, tempestuous, strike, violation,

Beautiful - admirable, alluring, angelic, appealing, bewitching, charming, dazzling, delicate, delightful, divine, elegant, enticing, exquisite, fascinating, gorgeous, graceful, grand, magnificent, marvelous, pleasing, radiant, ravishing, resplendent, splendid, stunning, sublime,

Dangerous - alarming, critical, fatal, formidable, impending, malignant, menacing, mortal, nasty, perilous, precarious, pressing, serious, terrible, threatening, treacherous, urgent, vulnerable, wicked,

Painful - aching, agonizing, arduous, awful, biting, burning, caustic, dire, distressing, dreadful, excruciating, extreme, grievous, inflamed, piercing, raw, sensitive, severe, sharp, tender, terrible, throbbing, tormenting,

How & When to Describe it:
Rule of Thumb #1:
-- The moment the POV Character notices it -- DESCRIBE IT!
Picture the scene in your head like a movie. If it shows up in your scene - it belongs on the page.

Rule of Thumb #2:
-- Description should always reflect the OPINION of the Viewpoint Character.
Oscar the Grouch is not going to see - or describe - a field of roses the same way as Big Bird. Darth Vader's opinion (and description,) of Yoda is not going to resemble Luke Skywalker's. The Heroine is NOT going to describe the Villain the same way she would her Hero.

Rule of Thumb #3
- Limit your detailed descriptions to stuff that is Relevant.
How do you tell what's relevant & what's not? How IMPORTANT is it to the story? Will this object/setting/character matter later?
  • If it's Important, then describe it in loving detail.
  • If it's only incidental, than only the tiniest sketch is needed.
Rule of Thumb #4
- Moderation! Moderation! Moderation!
Once you have described a setting or a person thoroughly, you don’t need to Keep Describing them -- unless they change. A small clue here and there, such as keeping to specific nouns, will do.

WHAT to Describe:
Every new scene should open with a snapshot of description that details the stage the action is about to happen in.

No more than 60 words max. If you need more than that to describe your setting - splice it into your Action.

Location Changes
Every time the scenery changes: every new room, every new view, every new place they arrive at - gets described; so the reader can see it, and experience it too -- but don't go overboard.

If your story is based in the normal contemporary world, what the Setting looks like only matters in their immediate location and how it affects them directly. For example, rain has more of an immediate effect on characters than would sunshine - unless they're a vampire.

Locations get 30 words max, because that's about how much the average person can catch in a single look. The rest of the details should be mixed in between the actions and dialogue as the character gets a better look around.

Note: Fantasy and Sci-Fi Require MORE Description.

In most sci-fi's and fantasies, the otherworldly SETTING is just as important as the characters because the differences between Fantasy & Reality actually affect the plot -- such as things that are possible in a Fantasy setting, but aren't in the normal world, and vice versa.

The snapshot at the beginning of every scene is still the same length (60 words) - but you have to continue to add more description as the characters move through the world.

Think of how you see characters in a movie. THAT'S how you describe the people your character sees. Start at the top and describe down. Bottom to Top description implies that the Body is more important than the Mind. It implies that the viewer is looking for sex -- and nothing more.

Note to FanFiction Authors:
Fantasy Characters should get the opportunity to show off the full extent of their powers at least once because those powers are relevant to who that character is and why they act as they do.

People get three whole sentences max. If you need more than three sentences, thread the rest in with the dialogue.

Describing the Viewpoint Character
Yes or No?

YES! YES! YES! I don’t know about you, but when I’m reading a story, I wanna know whose head I'm in -- as soon as I'm in that head! And I want to know what that person LOOKS LIKE! (Damn it...)

Viewpoint Characters only get three sentences just like any other person in the story.

Describing the Viewpoint Character is Tricky
-- Literally. You have to use tricks to do it.
The simplest way to describe the POV character is by having them see their reflection, (which, is also why it’s the most common technique.) Try to avoid using mirrors. Mirrors have been done to death.

The other way is by having the character ‘notice’ themselves, one little action at a time. This works best when the character is highly opinionated about their appearance.

The delicately feminine gown strewn across the bed was exactly the type I would refuse to wear under any circumstances. To make matters worse, it was a horrifying shade of fairy-tale iridescent pink. I could not believe they actually expected someone as un-delicate and unfeminine as me to actually wear it – in public! Blue-eyed blonds with hoards of golden curls wore shiny pink gowns. Big strapping girls like me, with long pin-straight black hair and cat-green eyes wore dowdy blue dresses, usually with aprons over them.

The trick I prefer to use is threading the Description into the character's Actions. Using their Actions brings other parts of the character into focus, rather than describe the character in one lump paragraph.

Good god in heaven, this guy wants sex? With her? Was he out of his mind? She wasn’t unattractive; she’d never had a problem getting dates. Her generous bust-line, more than generous butt, and small waist drew the guys out of the woodwork. But this guy was just too pretty to even consider someone that didn’t come straight from Hollywood.

“I’m flattered, really, but…” She pushed up from the bench and her coiled hair teetered precariously on top of her head. She made a quick grab for the chopsticks jammed in the twisted knot of her long dark blonde mane. Several of her charcoals rolled from her sketchbook to land on the floor with the tiniest sound of breaking glass. “Oh, damn…”

She abandoned her hair and leaned over the side of the banquette sofa, reaching for the fallen charcoals. Her bare foot struck the wall under the night black window and three of the vampire paperbacks by her knee were knocked to the floor. She groaned in annoyance. It figures… A cute guy and I am an instant klutz. Lifting her feet carefully over the backpack hogging the far end of the sofa, she turned on her belly to get her feet on the floor. Not the sexiest move in the world. Just call me Grace. She hunched down to gather the fallen books and broken charcoals.

The man crouched at her side and collected one of her fallen vampire books. A black brow rose as he scanned the back cover. “What interesting reading material.”

Elaine’s cheek heated as she stood. “Yes, I read trashy romances.” She leaned over the sofa to stuff her charcoals and her other two books into her back pack. “It’s a girl thing.”

“This is a romance?”

“A trashy romance; it has sex in it.” Elaine glanced over her shoulder and froze.

He was still crouched, but the book was forgotten in his hand. He was focused entirely on the curve of her jean-clad butt, bent less than a foot from his nose. His midnight stare lifted from her butt to capture her gaze. “Then you like sex?”

Elaine swallowed the lump in her throat. Oh boy, I really stepped in that one. She stood upright slowly, trying to gather what dignity she could, and then turned around to face him. “Yes, I like sex.” It was too late to deny it now. She tugged the hem of her thick white cable knit sweater down over her hips, and butt. She held out her hand. “My book please?”

Using Description Wisely!
Once you have described a setting or a person thoroughly, you DON'T need to Keep Describing them -- unless they change. A small clue here and there, such as keeping to specific nouns, will do.

For example, in the above excerpt, the man was not described, though Elaine was - and thoroughly. Why was that? Because I HAD ALREADY DESCRIBED HIM in a previous part of the story, this part in fact:

“Might I have your company for the night?”

“Huh?” Elaine glanced up from her belly-down sprawl across the private compartment’s plush banquette sofa. The art deco lamp directly over her was on, but polished cherry wood walls made the rest of the antique Pullman car very dark. She blinked. Where did he come from?

A tall man in a nearly floor-length black leather coat, stood just inside the deep shadow of her compartment’s door. His hands hung loose at his sides. “Pardon the intrusion.” His voice was soft, low and velvety with a touch of exotic eastern European lilt. He tilted his head toward the closed door. “I did knock, and your door was unlocked.”

Elaine bit her lip. She hadn’t heard the knock. Hell, she hadn’t heard the door to her train compartment open either. Damn it, she had to start remembering to lock that door. She sighed. Too late now. “I’m sorry, my best friend says a bomb could go off when I’m drawing and I’d miss it.”

“An artist’s concentration, I understand.” He stepped into her pool of light. Blue highlights gleamed in the unrelieved blackness of his hair. He wore it combed straight back from the deep peak of his brow, hinting that his hair was long and tied back. Midnight dark eyes peered at her from under straight black brows. Sharp cheekbones and a strong jaw-line defined his aggressively masculine face, but the lush fullness of his mouth and the ivory-pale color of his skin belonged in a neo-classical painting.

Wow, GQ magazine must be missing a model. She had to close her mouth. The man’s face was that freaking gorgeous. “I’m sorry, what was it you wanted?”

One corner of his mouth lifted, hinting at amusement. He clasped his hands before him. “Your company, for the night.”

“My company?” She blinked. That couldn’t be what it sounded like. “For what, exactly?”

“Sex.” His slightly amused expression didn’t change.

What was in the picture
- at the beginning of this article?

A woman.
A time of day.
Weather conditions.
Actions & Emotions.

In your response to the picture above, did you include EVERYTHING in the picture, or only some things? Did you include her hair color and its texture? Her eyes? Her clothes? Whether or not she was pretty? Her sword? Her actions? The snow?
  • What did you include?
  • What did you leave out?
  • What did you merely mention and what did you actually Describe?
  • What did you give color, weight, flavor and emotion to?
If you were to give your description to a friend who has NOT seen this picture, and then Showed them the picture, would they recognize it?


The ONLY way to get YOUR picture across to the Reader.

Morgan Hawke

1 comment:

  1. Great article!
    I _loathe_ it when authors leave out descriptions. Like we are reading a script to a damn radio show.
    I even prefer too much description over zero description :)